YouTube has again turned to big-name entertainment personalities to anchor its latest slate of ad-supported originals.
At its Brandcast Delivered event for advertisers Tuesday, YouTube announced an unscripted series with Will Smith following his latest fitness journey and a new docuseries with Alicia Keys premiering this summer.
The video giant also announced the third and final season of comedy “Liza on Demand,” starring popular comedian and YouTube creator Liza Koshy — marking the last of YouTube’s scripted originals, after phasing them out starting in 2018; “Ice Cold,” a docuseries produced by hip-hop trio Migos exploring issues around racial inequity; and a new special celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander culture from executive producers including LeBron James and Michelle Kwan.
The YouTube Originals strategy remains the same: They’re projects built around personalities and top YouTube creators designed to draw a large audience, as well as specials to support specific causes, said YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl.
“If you’re a creative person, you want to work with the place that has the greatest reach — that’s the ultimate satisfaction, greater than money,” Kyncl said in an interview. The creator economy, he said, is “here to stay — and it’s not just YouTube, the whole world has kind of validated it. It’s reshaping Hollywood and other industries around the world.”
The Will Smith project (working title: “Best Shape of My Life”) is slated to premiere in 2022. The six-part fitness series from Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Media will follow the actor as he challenges himself to improve every aspect of his fitness with the help of guests including pro athletes, scientists and experts — and top YouTube creators. The series will be directed and showrun by filmmaker Dexton Deboree. It’s Will Smith’s second project with YouTube Originals: In 2018, In his first, he bungee-jumped from a helicopter over the Grand Canyon on his 50th birthday to raise money for charity.
Alicia Keys’ “Noted” (working title) is slated to premiere this summer. It will follow the singer-songwriter as she celebrate the 20th anniversary of her seminal album “Songs in A Minor” and heads into the studio to record her eighth record. Produced in partnership with Westbrook Media, in the four-part docuseries Keys “will bring the past 20 years to surface” with performances and behind-the-scenes footage, per YouTube.
YouTube’s “Liza on Demand” Season 3, premiering later this year, will again star actor-producer-creator Liza Koshy alongside returning cast members Kimiko Glenn and Travis Coles as they wade through the highs and lows of their 20s. “Liza on Demand” is produced by Above Average with executive producers Liza Koshy, Courtney Carter, Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont, Marc Lieberman, Ally Engelberg, Caroline Miller and Elliot Glazer.
YouTube docuseries “Ice Cold,” from executive producers Migos, uses the prism of hip-hop jewelry to explore deeper issues around racial inequity and the American dream. The collection of four short episodes is directed by Karam Gill (“G-Funk,” “Supervillain”) and is produced by Quality Films, Universal Music Group’s Mercury Studios and Polygram Entertainment, MGX Creative, and Mass Appeal.
YouTube’s “Recipe for Change” (working title) is set to premiere June 16, featuring Asian American storytellers and bringing together celebrities, chefs, activists, and creators to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander culture and discuss acts of hate and violence against the API community. LeBron James and Maverick Carter will serve as executive producers through their media company, the SpringHill Company. Michelle Kwan and Dennis Cheng will also executive produce alongside Jamal Henderson and Philip Byron of SpringHill, showrunner Joel Relampagos, and director Rich Kim.
Original special “Barbershop Medicine,” premiering this summer, will explore the impact race and socioeconomic status have on healthcare and longevity. The special will bring together musical artist Masego, renowned physicians Dr. Italo Brown and Dr. Jamie Rutland and community members in a storied barbershop to discuss today’s most pressing health concern, COVID-19. The special is from the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund and is executive produced by Charles D. King, Marta Fernandez, Jelani Johnson, and Aisha Corpas Wynn for Macro Television Studios and Culture House. Hashim Williams is executive producer and showrunner.
In addition, YouTube has set a global livestream special for Pride Month, in partnership with The Trevor Project to raise money for LGBTQ+ youth, on June 25 featuring Trixie Mattel, Daniel Howell, Kim Chi, Monét X Change, Peppermint, Denali Foxx and more. Premiering May 8 is “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World,” a broadcast and livestream special presented in partnership with Global Citizen that aims to encourage people to get COVID vaccines.
Additional upcoming YouTube originals include a second season of “Could You Survive the Movies,” hosted by YouTube creator Jake Roper, premiering this summer; additional topical episodes of the Vox Media Studios’ “Glad You Asked” this summer; a second interactive special with YouTube creator Markiplier set for later this year; and a second season of competition series “Instant Influencer” with new host, Zach “ZHC” Hsieh premiering this fall; and Season 2 of hit Brazilian series “Whindersson: Próxima Parada” premiering this summer.
The 2021 YouTube Brandcast, its 10th annual presentation at IAB’s NewFronts, was emceed by Hasan Minhaj. The show featured appearances from YouTubers and talent including The Fitness Marshall, The Try Guys, iJustine, ZHC, Tarek Ali, AsapScience, Naomi Campbell, Jessica Alba and Venus Williams, along with musical performances by Miley Cyrus, Kurt Hugo Schneider, Tkay Maidza, Joy Oladokun and Rexx Life Raj.
During the event, YouTube announced a new interactive advertising product called “brand extensions,” slated to be available globally later this year, which will let users click on an ad to learn more about a product without interrupting their viewing experience. In addition, the platform is introducing YouTube Select Sponsorships, which will offer advertisers seasonal sponsorships focused specifically on what’s prominent in culture during that time of year (like Mother’s Day, summer wellness or women in music during Women’s History Month).
Kyncl called out YouTube’s rapid ascent in the living room: In the U.S., more than 120 million people streamed YouTube or YouTube TV on their TV screens in December 2020. He also pointed to a June 2020 study Google commissioned that found in the U.S., YouTube was No. 1 video content provider viewers would miss the most if it was no longer available.
While YouTube’s Brandcast was all about pushing the free, ad-supported side of its business, Kyncl said the subscription side of the house continues to grow. YouTube Premium (which includes YouTube Music) now has more than 30 million subscribers. Of course, that’s just a fraction of the 2 billion-plus monthly logged-in users overall for YouTube.
“If we had all of Netflix and all of Amazon [paid video subscribers] inside of YouTube, we would still be majority free viewers,” Kyncl said. “The engagement level on an ad-supported service is far greater than anything on an SVOD service,” he said, but added, “that doesn’t mean we will not have a large and growing subscription business.”